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Probate dispute may determine if blood is thicker than water

There is nearly $300 million at stake, an incredible fortune by any standards. Put in the simplest of terms, the probate dispute filed by family members of the deceased is aiming to determine whether the old adage that "blood is thicker than water" is true. Now it will may be up to a court to decide a dispute that could cost one side millions of dollars.

New Jersey residents may recall hearing about the daughter of copper magnate William Andrews Clark who drafted two wills in 2005. The first one left almost everything to family. The second one, drafted a short six weeks after the first one, specifically disinherited her family in favor of those she considered "the true objects of my bounty." When she died at nearly 105 years old and the family discovered what had occurred, they began a campaign to have the second will declared invalid.

The family says that the relative they had barely, if at all, seen must have been coerced or somehow manipulated to change her will. On the other hand, a great deal of court time is being spent determining how involved the disputing relatives really were in her life. The parties have been in negotiations to resolve the issue, but if those efforts are unsuccessful, the dispute could end up going to trial.

Even though these issues are on a much larger scale than most New Jersey families will have to deal with, the results of this probate dispute may end up setting a precedent. One of the main questions to be answered is whether being a blood relative automatically entitles someone to an inheritance. Similarly, just because someone isn't related to the decedent, that doesn't necessarily mean there was coercion involved and that person or people shouldn't receive an inheritance.

Source: theage.com, $300 million inheritance disputed, Anemona Hartocollis, Sept. 16, 2013

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